Monday, February 27, 2012

Start Spreading the News

I’ve just returned from a quick trip with my daughter to NYC. The weather was glorious.

I walked Abby's poor little feet off, mostly because walking is the least intimidating form of transportation in the big city. My modus operandus is to take a subway to the general area we want to be in and then walk and walk and walk.

And I go briskly, of course. This is New York. For a little while, I’m Holly Golightly but with a nine-year-old attached. I’m Mary Tyler Moore, but in New York, and in the twenty-first century. I’m the bored-looking twenty-something in a black dress and a nice pair of boots stopped at the crosswalk beside me. She’s clutching a Starbucks and a canvas bag stuffed full of papers. She sees nothing around her because, of course, she’s seen it all before.

We saw Mary Poppins on Broadway. I fell a little bit in love with Bert, the dashing and very wise chimney sweep whose dancing defies the laws of physics. Who makes every move look so spontaneous and easy. Oh, if I could drag him off the stage and onto 42nd Street, walk on his arm like Mary Poppins, whose hot pink booties I’ll have to borrow. Her parasol, too. Bert at my side, whistling and heel-clicking and touching the tip of his hat to every passerby.

At the airport, I put on a mock scowl for Abby. “I don’t wanna go home,” I tell her, crossing my arms and stomping my feet.

Good-bye, Bert.

Ostensibly, this trip was for Abby. As a friend of mine said of her own first trip to NYC: it broadens a girl’s horizons. Of course it does; that’s travel. That’s going anywhere. The more you see of this world, the bigger it gets. I want my girl to be adventurous and brave and—above all—curious. I want her to seek.

Traveling is for the girl. Traveling is for the writer, too. And, it’s not just about broadening horizons—although it is that, too. It reminds us how very big this world is—how much is out there, how alike and different we humans are.

I also think, though, that going to a new place brings out new desires. Or desires we didn’t know about ourselves. Me and my dancing-off-with-Bert fantasy. My Mary Poppins’s high heels and parasol. Me in my imaginary perfect black dress, clutching the morning’s first venti Americana, me knowing New York well enough and long enough to be bored with it.

I could be living inside a whole different life.

Years ago, when I was twelve, I went to Hawaii with my family and wanted to be a hula girl with long, lustrous black hair and graceful, slender arms. In Russia, many years later, I wanted to be a babushka tucked away in a Russian dacha. Cooking borscht and taking in an early-morning banya. Living under all those Russian-cold-winter stars. Or, one of the ballerinas at the Bolshoy Theater, dancing Swan Lake. When I was very young, I knew I’d grow up to be a shuffle skater at the local skating rink. Or a second grade teacher, a divorcee, who wore high heels and corduroy vests. I could have been a Charlie’s Angel. We drove through Illinois and I thought to myself: I could be a farmer’s wife from my grandmother’s era. I could wipe down a vinyl tablecloth and make chocolate German cookies.

No wonder I have to write fiction.